Posted in: Animation, by Andrew Wright, Contributors, Film Reviews

Anarchy in the CG

Despicable Me

Me and my minions

Dir: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Sincere Question: During this, Pixar’s Golden Age of Animation, is it somehow ungrateful to wish for an occasional decent deviation from Masterpiece after Masterpiece, in the way that Bugs Bunny and Co. served as a hellzapoppin’ corrective to Disney’s dignified heft? (Despite the repeated efforts of Dreamworks, the mere presence of pop culture references and ’70s songs on the soundtrack just doesn’t scratch the itch, somehow.) Call me Looney, but the more resonant and spectacular Pixar’s output becomes, the greater the risk of reducing the surface pleasures of watching drawings (or renderings or whatever) do things that real people can’t.

Despicable Me would likely be enjoyable on any terms, but in the wake of the heart-wrenching Toy Story 3, its emphasis on Rube Goldbergian pratfalls and spittakes seems almost heroic. Much like last year’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it recognizes the virtues of letting a cartoon be, well, cartoony, no matter how newfangled the technology.

Beginning with an inspired Pyramid joke, the story follows Gru (Steve Carrell), a Blofieldish super villain whose plan to steal the moon hits a snag with the emergence of a new nerdy contender (Jason Segal) to the evil throne. The ultimate character arc of the anti-hero is never really in doubt, particularly when he enlists a trio of lovable orphans in his schemes, but it’s the delivery that counts, with virtually every frame festooned with sight gags both small (Gru’s den features the largest assortment of mounted endangered species since Ben Gazarra’s in Roadhouse) and gigantic (a sequence involving the moon and an unstable shrink ray favorably recalls Tex Avery’s legendary King Size Canary). The most inspired concept proves to be Gru’s henchmen, a gaggle of addled yellow blobs who collectively talk in an imitation of Butters from South Park. Inevitable merchandising glut be darned: these guys are never not funny.

The classic cartoon shorts were shorts for a reason, of course, and Despicable Me’s non-stop flow of jokes does occasionally prove to be a little wearying in the back half. Hiccups aside, though, this is a welcome blast of silly string in this time of Quality Animation: a cartoon that never forgets to capitalize on its chosen medium’s knack for unreality. When the end credits begin spoofing the film’s very own 3D gimmicks, you get the feeling that the folks from Warner’s Termite Terrace would approve. And possibly drop a celebratory piano on someone.